Yes, my mother was the quintessential Bad Ass – in the most celebratory sense* of the word. It took her ninety years to come into her full bad assery, but it was always there. When she was a little girl – eight or nine – workmen on her family’s Baltimore property tore out a peach tree sapling, which went straight to her heart. She begged her father to let her replant the sapling, which – kind & understanding man that he was – he did, warning her that it would very likely die. The little girl put her heart & soul into tending that tender sapling, which did take root, flourished & bore fruit over years to come.
Mom was clearly a from-birth bad ass!
It’s understandable why it lay low for most of her life. Her father died when she was 19, the same year as the Great Crash. She was left as the primary care provided for her mother, who was as gosh awful as my grandfather was caring & tender. Putting up her emotional force fields made sense, given the situation. The problem was that putting them up whenever a difficult situation arose became her norm. Except with Dad – with her O Best Beloved, Mom could be her truest self. Except he died at 63, leaving her alone with a daughter still in college (me), another struggling to find her feet in the world & a rudderless oldest son. Up came the force fields!
But I could always sense the inner bad ass, the woman who could stand up for herself. Thanks to a combination of factors – none of them related directly to me – a wave of opportunity to step into her full bad assery swelled in her late 80s, crested just before she hit ninety. Man, did she ride that wave!
In the wake of the Parkland High School shootings, a friend wrote about two very young boys who were killed – separately – in her childhood due to playing with guns. It reminded me of my own brother, the youngest boy in the family, four years older than I, who was killed at eleven as he & a friend fooled around with a gun. The friend commented on how that must have affected the family. Which go me thinking about how Ian’s death played out so differently for each of us, opening up some & shutting down others. And driving Mom deeper into denial of the inner grit that could have pulled her – all of us – through. The force fields were up for decades.
How much more astonishing that Mom never lost her capacity to evolve, to become a very different persona at 91 than she had been just four years before but that included all she’d always been.
Mom saw a bad ass in me that totally escaped my awareness. It’s why she colluded with the Powers-That-Be to shake me out of the corporate world, to strip me down to my barest emotional basics so I could rebuild my inner engine into something more in line with the original specs. All I know is that Mom never saw me in the corporate world & six weeks after her death, two weeks after her memorial celebration, I was out, the door back closed. Coincidence? Sheer bad assery!
Am on my way up to NYC this afternoon for the monthly meeting of the Radical Age Movement – I founded the Philadelphia chapter. Last week was the Positive Aging lunch in Old City. I am a presenter at April’s Positive Aging/Masterpiece Lyceum Conference. I am working on an Rx for the Caregiver page-a-day calendar, developing The Friendship Doula into a profitable business. I am the person my total bad ass of a mother envisioned 16+ years ago.
* Defining BADASS – a person who is independent & competent enough to do what they want, regardless of whether it’s popular, or even allowed. A badass is someone who rolls up her sleeves, knows what she wants to do, is open to the risks & flat-out goes for it. Who can laugh at themselves while taking their pursuit seriously, love themselves & others. Who are wise enough to “rejoice in the cosmic ridiculousness” of it all.